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Herodotus

Herodotus

JAMES ROMM
FOREWORD BY JOHN HERINGTON
Copyright Date: 1998
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 232
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt32bkm5
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    Herodotus
    Book Description:

    Herodotus, widely known as the father of history, was also described by Aristotle as amythologos, or "tale-teller." In this stylish and insightful book, intended for both general readers and students, James Romm argues that the author of theHistorieswas both a historian-in the original sense of "one who inquires"-and a master storyteller.Although most ancient historians wrote only about events they themselves had lived through, Herodotus explored an era well before his own time-from the rise of the Persian Empire to the Persian invasions of Greece in 490 and 480 B.C., the heroic fight of the Greeks against the invaders, and the final Greek victory. Working without the aid of written sources, Herodotus traveled widely and wove into his chronology descriptions of people and countries he visited and anecdotes that shed light on their lives and customs. Romm discusses the historical background of Herodotus`s life and work, his moralistic approach to history, his insatiable fascination with people and places, his literary powers, and the question of the historical "truth" behind the stories he relates. He gives general readers a fresh appreciation of theHistoriesas a work encompassing fiction and nonfiction, myth and history, and poetry and prose. Herodotus becomes not simply a source of historical data but a masterful and artistic author who created a radically new literary genre.Hermes BooksJohn Herington, Founding Editor

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14668-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. FOREWORD
    (pp. ix-xii)
    John Herington

    “It would be a pity,” said Nietzsche, “if the classics should speak to us less clearly because a million words stood in the way.” His forebodings seem now to have been realized. A glance at the increasing girth of successive volumes of the standard journal of classical bibliography,L’Année Philologique, since World War II is enough to demonstrate the proliferation of writing on the subject in our time. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the studies listed will prove on inspection to be largely concerned with points of detail and composed by and for academic specialists in the field. Few are...

  4. PREFACE
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  5. I INTRODUCTION: MYTH AND HISTORY
    (pp. 1-11)

    When Croesus, king of Lydia, climbed atop his funeral pyre in 547 B.C. and quite possibly immolated himself, he could not have expected that thousands of years later anyone would know of his demise. His kingdom in western Anatolia had failed in its bid to become an imperial power, and its time on the world’s stage had been brief, about a century. Indeed, Croesus may well have wished at that moment that the world would forget him: his grandest undertaking, an invasion of the Persian empire to the east, had ended in humiliation when the Persians counterinvaded and caught him...

  6. II FROM HOMER TO HERODOTUS
    (pp. 12-31)

    Herodotus guessed that Homer had lived about four hundred years before his own time, and he was not far wrong: the best modern estimates would shorten this span by a century or slightly more, putting Homer’s life at the end of the eighth century B.C. and Herodotus’s from about 485 to about 425. In those three hundred or so years, no Greek writer had attempted a narrative work of nearly the same length or scope as the Homeric epics. TheIliadand theOdysseystood on the literary horizon like the Pillars of Heracles, the twin rock formations astride the...

  7. III THE SIXTH CENTURY: THE NEW WORLD ORDER
    (pp. 32-47)

    Earlier I claimed that one need not use a historical commentary to read Herodotus for pleasure and meaning because the goal of theHistoriesis not merely to give an accurate record of events. Alack of historical background, however,canimpede one’s enjoyment of the text, if only because some of the players on Herodotus’s great stage may initially be obscure and hard to sort out. Herodotus’s first book, for example, presents a magnificent panorama of Near Eastern peoples and places that are often unfamiliar to modern-day readers, even those who bring to it a substantial background in Greek history....

  8. IV THE MAN AND THE WORK
    (pp. 48-58)

    In spite of Herodotus’s many first-person comments in theHistories—one scholar has reckoned them at more than a thousand—we know very little about the man himself or the circumstances of his life. “Did Herodotus have agirlfriend?” a student once asked me impatiently. We will never know the answer to this and many other questions. Herodotus seems to have been entirely lacking the impulse toward self-exploration that colors so much of modern literature and social discourse; he always directs his gaze outward, toward the world and its doings, never inward toward his own heart. The most subjective of...

  9. V THE DOWNFALL OF THE GREATNESS
    (pp. 59-76)

    Just as he tells us little about his own life in theHistories, so Herodotus rarely makes observations in his own voice about the patterns of history; usually he confines such philosophizing to the speeches he gives his characters. But in one crucial instance, right at the outset of his text, he allows himself a generalizing comment:

    After pointing out the man whoIknow was the first to begin unjust deeds against the Greeks, I shall move forward in my account, describing alike the small and large cities of humankind; for those that previously were large have for the...

  10. VI THE STRUCTURE OF THE EARTH
    (pp. 77-93)

    Among the many notes sounded in Solon’s great meditation on the nature of happiness, one important idea has thus far gone unmentioned. Toward the end of his last speech to Croesus, as he is reaching his rhetorical climax, Solon formulates his main theme, the balance of good and bad that defines human life, in a striking new way:

    It’s not possible for any human being to have all good things at once, just as no land is so self-sufficient as to produce everything it needs; each land has different resources, but all lack something; whichever one has the most, that...

  11. VII THE KINGDOM OF CULTURE
    (pp. 94-113)

    Starting from his opening sentence, in which he promises to record “the great and wondrous deeds displayed by both Greeks and barbarians,” Herodotus sets up a contrast in hisHistoriesbetween Hellenic peoples and the others who surround them in all directions. Primarily by “barbarians” he means the Persians and their allies, and his first sentence looks forward to the second half of the text, in which his narrative cuts back and forth between the Persian capital or military camp and the leading cities or camps of the Greeks. But his exploration of the non-Greek world is also carried out...

  12. VIII THE ART OF THE STORYTELLER
    (pp. 114-131)

    Any writer of history must also be, to some degree, the teller of a story; indeed, the word “story” originated as an abbreviated form of “history,” and the two words remain fused in Italianstoriaand Frenchhistoire. For Herodotus, the history of the Greek conflict with Persia was, among other things, a great story: it had colorful, exotic scenery, larger-than-life characters, thrilling action, and an ending that, at the time it actually occurred at least, had come as an enormous surprise. What is more, this vast and sweeping story gave room for the inclusion of dozens of smaller tales,...

  13. IX REASON, CREDULITY, AND FAITH
    (pp. 132-147)

    The sense of a speaking voice in theHistories, of someone “superbly talking,” derives not only from its oral style but from the persona its narrator adopts and the way he addresses his audience. Herodotus somehow makes his readers into confidants; we are invited to share his ideas and interests, to think his thoughts, to see the world as he sees it. “Hetellsus things,” as one writer has observed, the way a fond grandparent tells things to a wide-eyed child; one feels, more perceptibly than with most other authors ancient or modern, that he wants us to learn...

  14. X THE FIFTH CENTURY: WARS BETWEEN WORLDS
    (pp. 148-156)

    Almost fifty years after the fall of Croesus’s Lydian empire to the Persians, the city of Sardis was captured again, this time by the Greeks. The cities of Ionia, having lived under the Persians during all that half century, began a revolt against their masters in 499 B.C.; as a first strike, they sent an army eastward from Miletus and took Sardis, the Persian regional capital nearest their own territory. Accompanying the Ionian rebels were troops from Athens and Eretria, the two states of European Greece that had elected to aid them (Sparta, the reigning superpower of the Hellenic world,...

  15. XI CHARACTERS AND CHARACTERIZATION
    (pp. 157-172)

    The cast of characters in theHistoriesnumbers about a thousand, nearly the same as in Homer’sIliad; in Herodotus, as in Homer, most of that cast are bit players, mentioned but once or twice in a vast span of narrative. Sometimes, though, even these minor characters are surprisingly well captured by Herodotus. The mute son of Croesus, whose part is so small he is not even named, makes an indelible impression when his love for his father prompts him to speak his first words, commanding an attacking Persian, “You there, don’t kill Croesus!” (1.85). But Herodotus, like Homer, made...

  16. XII PERSIANS AND GREEKS
    (pp. 173-190)

    On the occasions in post-Classical times when Asian peoples have invaded Europe—the Huns in the fifth century, the Mongols or Tatars in the thirteenth, the Turks in the sixteenth—they have appeared to those who stood in their path as subhuman savages or as devils loosed out of Hell. The Tatars, for example, were identified by medieval Europeans with the monstrous races of Gog and Magog whom Alexander the Great had supposedly locked behind mountain gates in central Asia and whose irruption into the Christian world signaled the coming of the Apocalypse. The first Europeans to have seen them...

  17. XIII THE GREAT WAR AND THE GREAT AGE
    (pp. 191-202)

    Herodotus’sHistoriesis, beyond all else, a war story. It takes warfare as its subject for the simple reason that this was the central and most compelling activity of the world in which its author lived. Most adult males in Herodotus’s society, no matter what city-state they belonged to, would have fought in a war at least once, if not several times, during their lives. The poem this society prized most highly, Homer’sIliad, was also a war story, dominated by graphic and often gory descriptions of hand-to-hand combat; the vase paintings and sculptural reliefs it produced depict scenes from...

  18. BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE AND ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. 203-208)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 209-212)